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Ballet and Rock & Roll – and Writing Beyond What You Know, a guest post by Brianna Bourne

The first time I saw Swan Lake, I was eleven, sitting in the front row watching a red velvet curtain rise on darkness. A single beam of light revealed a blanket of what looked like snow on the stage. But it wasn’t snow—it was dry ice. The swans were folded over, hidden beneath it. As they rose up, the dry ice poured toward me, racing over the lip of the stage to cool my face like a breath of night.

A group of birds flying in the air

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(Swan Lake by Birmingham Royal Ballet. Image: Andrew Ross)

I didn’t know then that I’d one day work backstage for major ballet companies—that I’d be the one wearing a headset and calling the cues for the dry ice machine to turn on, for the lights to change, for the curtain to rise.

And I didn’t know that a few years after that, I’d publish a book with a main character who was an elite ballet dancer.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the old writing adage, “Write what you know.” On one hand, writing what you know can be a wonderful thing. There’s something so compelling about a story that peels back the curtain on a specialist hobby or profession. It’s pure magic when I read about a character who is an elite gymnast or a champion canoeist or a country music singer, and by the time I’ve turned the last page, I feel like I’m the gymnast or the racer or the singer.

Do I know ballet? Sure. I know the terminology, I can (very crudely) replicate a pas de chat or a penché, and I’ve been known to do a few chaînés if I find myself in a large empty room. When I wasn’t on tour, I spent forty hours a week in a rehearsal studio with jaw-droppingly talented dancers.

But I’m not a ballerina, by any stretch of the imagination. But that’s what writing is, right? A stretch of the imagination.

I certainly stretched the limits of “Write what you know” when I turned my love of 80s rock into my second main character’s talent/passion. For years as I drafted and revised, every car ride was filled with the electric, hair-raising energy of Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses, Dokken, Scorpions. I loved every second of that very serious book research.

A group of people posing for the camera

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(Guns N’ Roses)

“He was a punk, she did ballet” might have been enough to carry a lighter contemporary YA romance, but I blew the lid off writing what I knew when I decided my book would follow the last girl and boy in the world after they wake up to a silent, empty city.

But even that, somehow, felt like writing what I knew: I remember once, when I was sixteen or seventeen, I woke up long past noon to find my house empty. It was unnaturally quiet, and even the angle of the sun pouring in through the windows unsettled me. It turned out that my mom wasn’t far—out in the backyard having an argument with the A/C unit—but for a few heart-stopping minutes, it felt deeply wrong.

At their core, stories are a cookie-crumb trail of emotions. And we are all intimately familiar with the kaleidoscope of human emotion. Fear, love, hope, intrigue, skepticism, desperation, embarrassment—we are each witness to thousands of moments daily that make micro-impacts on our feelings. And that’s where I find myself writing what I know: in those moments where we get a concentrated dose of an emotion so pure it makes our breath catch.

I’m not an elite ballet dancer, and I’m not a rock musician. I haven’t woken up alone in an empty world. But I am a writer. And it’s my job to imagine situations and settings, to climb into a character’s body and mind and heart, and then somehow shape all of that into words on a page. Words that can miraculously transfer those tiny, concentrated moments of emotion to someone else.

So I’ll keep writing what I know—and what I don’t know. One day, maybe I’ll have a clearer answer on whether “Write what you know” is good writing advice.

But that day is not today.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Barnaby Aldrick

When Brianna Bourne is not writing, she works as a stage manager for ballet companies around the world. Originally from Texas, Brianna grew up in Indonesia and Egypt and now lives in England with her rock musician husband and their two daughters. You & Me At the End of the World is her debut novel. You can find out more about her on her website, and she can be followed on Twitter and Instagram.

About You & Me at the End of the World

This is no ordinary apocalypse…

Hannah Ashton wakes up to silence. The entire city around her is empty, except for one other person: Leo Sterling. Leo might be the hottest boy ever (and not just because he’s the only one left), but he’s also too charming, too selfish, and too much of a disaster for his own good, let alone Hannah’s.

Stuck with only each other, they explore a world with no parents, no friends, and no school and realize that they can be themselves instead of playing the parts everyone expects of them. Hannah doesn’t have to be just an overachieving, music-box-perfect ballerina, and Leo can be more than a slacker, 80s-glam-metal-obsessed guitarist. Leo is a burst of honesty and fun that draws Hannah out, and Hannah’s got Leo thinking about someone other than himself for the first time.

Together, they search for answers amid crushing isolation. But while their empty world may appear harmless . . . it’s not. Because nothing is quite as it seems, and if Hannah and Leo don’t figure out what’s going on, they might just be torn apart forever.

ISBN-13: 9781338712636
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 07/20/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

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